There’s a reason why listening to Girlpool feels like hanging out with the closest of friends: That’s exactly what it is. For Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, the duo at the heart of the band, their music is synonymous with their friendship.
Most BFFs, though, don’t also have to navigate indie stardom. Critics were slow to catch on to Girlpool’s self-titled 2014 EP, but since then, attention has been relentless. Their debut record, Before the World Was Big, earned them top marks from the New York Times, Pitchfork, Spin, and NPR, but their most devoted — and important — fans have always been the legions of younger listeners who thrive on the intimacy and confidence of Girlpool’s music. Critics have at times tried to pigeonhole Girlpool as riot grrrl revivalists, but the band has refused to accept it, demanding, successfully, that rock and punk music made by women, that sometimes talks about gender, not be dismissed as niche.
With a show at the Market Hotel coming up Friday night, Girlpool sat down to talk with me about how their friendship has changed in the year since Before the World Was Big, in which they also moved from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. Harmony and Cleo seemed closer than ever: They finished each other’s sentences as they passed the phone around, sharing laughs and affirmation when one said something particularly resonant. Their relationship and the creation process that depends on it both take a lot of trust, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Girlpool was made to communicate their own internal landscape. Everything else, they say, is just details.
Village Voice: Friendship touches every aspect of Girlpool’s work, from the band’s name to how you met and your lyrical themes. Has your relationship changed since you started the band?
Harmony: Girlpool started as this mutual love for similar songwriters and going to punk shows in L.A. and being young and having fun at shows. We met because I was working the door at a show and Cleo was dancing like a maniac and we hit it off talking about Bright Eyes. That was how our friendship began, and it has continued to exist in a similar manner. There is a lot of dancing and talking about Conor Oberst. [Laughs] Girlpool is exciting because we love to write music together. We have followed each other through many different phases of life at this point and made music throughout it, which has been really powerful. I think it’s cool to watch how now we are working on new material again, [and] you can see how we have evolved through our music, as far as the styles of the songs and what they are commenting on.
Cleo: The growth in our project is just a reflection of the evolution of our friendship together. I’d say they truly go hand in hand. Girlpool is our friendship.
In what ways have you influenced each other over the past two years?
Harmony: Going through these different times in life together, we each picked up different interests musically, artistically. It’s very influential [for us to] share interests and explore them together. One person will pick up this one thing and say, “This is really cool; I really think we should explore this with our music.” And we’ll send each other our own personal demos of songs we’ve written when we’ve been apart from each other. There’s a lot of dialogue surrounding everything, creation-wise.
Cleo: Harmony and I talk constantly about how people stretch each other. We have stretched each other in so many ways. So much of our friendship has focused on completely loving and embracing our differences. Even when we are writing something together, our own parts come with a dialogue, like “How about this?” Our music — not only are the lyrics completely constructed together, and discussed, but the music parts are sifted through together.
In what ways do those influences manifest in Girlpool?
Cleo: We are both really fluid as people. Our differences are constantly changing. One day one of us will be more uptight or loose about something and the next day we’re the opposite person. Neither of us is really confined in terms of what we think we are supposed to be like. I think that creates an exciting dialogue between the two of us when the two of us are switching roles for what is driving our intention. We sort of both juggle each other’s clarities. We’ll seek clarity for ourselves and one other. It’s like playing catch. It’s always changing.
How does that resistance to being confined to someone else’s expectations play into your creative process?
Cleo: From the beginning of our friendship we wanted to explore together, from even the first time that we sat down together to play music. We had no idea what we were doing with it. We only wanted to start a band with each other. But we knew that it wasn’t a traditional situation because we did have other people to play with, but we wanted it to be us. That set such a greater intention — we both agree — from that point on for a way of living that is openness and…
Harmony: Without precedent. It’s also really interesting to think about all the media monsters, between social media and whatever blogs, newspaper, TV, all of it. There’s so much media. All of it has just boxed people into things constantly. I get it — our society is really a bizarre one. It teaches comfort in black-and-white. It teaches comfort in binary or in the land of “This is one and this is two, or zero and one.” What’s fun is to realize that I don’t have to answer yes or no, I can answer in between and say, “I am both the yes and the no right now and I am probably going to be the no at one point and the yes in the future. Tomorrow I will be neither again.” It’s really powerful to realize there is no answer. There is no constant answer. The answer is constantly changing. Accepting that the answer changes for whatever question is the most powerful thing to know.
What does that exploring look like when you are writing together?
Harmony: Exploring shows up as words and experiences. We spend a lot of time together as not Girlpool, too. The exciting thing is taking these moments of “We are doing this funny thing together right now,” or “We are out in the world and we’re having this weird experience,” and coming back to writing and then saying, “Well, what was that like? What does that mean? Who are we in that context?” That’s the exploration — dissecting an experience and seeing it up close, pressed up against the glass and looking at it from far away and seeing what all the different angles have to offer.
How does it feel to invite your audience into that intimate space?
Cleo: It’s really exciting.
Harmony: It feels pretty wild. It’s so subjective when anyone hears anyone else’s music. You can relate to it however you want and find whatever meaning you want in it. The most powerful part is knowing that for us, these songs come from a really intimate place of communication. For whoever else, they get to peek into it. But they won’t ever fully see it the way that Cleo and I see it. Even Cleo and I see it differently from each other. That’s the beauty of it. Finding shape within two different shapes and letting everyone else project their shape onto the shape. The art only belongs to itself. It doesn’t really belong to anyone else.
Before the World Was Big explores the process of growing and changing, which was very different from the themes of your first EP. Are there themes that have been consistent in Girlpool’s work over time?
Harmony: Honoring the self, self-exploration, and the moment. The new songs we have been writing definitely have their own theme. All of it has a lot to do with where we are at and what we are going through personally. That’s really the theme: our individuality and honoring that we are experiencing things in the moment.
Cleo: The theme is that we have an ever-changing location.
When you started out, your intention was to be vulnerable and to embrace your vulnerability. Does that still feel possible?
Cleo: Yeah. Vulnerability and honesty is the greater intention of Harmony’s and my existence within ourselves and the greater world. I think it’s self-honor and feeling true to your own-ness. It’s so vital for feeling better aligned and knowing that it’s all part of it, and embracing when you’re not in it, and embracing when you’re in it. That’s what we like to practice doing. And living the vulnerability in knowing that you don’t feel right right now, or you feel really right right now, or you feel really wrong and it’s so right.
How does your relationship with each other as friends in Girlpool play a role in that process?
Harmony: We are constantly communicating. We’re really close face to face right now.
Cleo: I’m looking into Harmony’s eyes very strangely! We’re nose to nose. [Laughs]
Harmony: It’s very intense. [Laughs] We’re just talking all the time about where we are at, leaving nothing out. Talking about how to be ourselves and know that everything else going on around us is not inside us, even though it affects us. We know that what we are doing is writing music to communicate with each other, to explore, and to feel whatever there is. Everything else is a footnote.
Girlpool plays Market Hotel on March 25. Tickets are sold out but available on the secondary market. For more information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 24, 2016